"Pantry" is for ingredients, tricks, tools and all things cool.

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Blenheim apricots


The best thing about coming home from this trip–besides seeing my kitty Ella, of course–is getting back in time for tiny Blenheim apricots.  They are a specialty of the Bay Area, and their season is so short you blink and they go *poof*. 

The blenheims are an old-fashioned kind of apricots that are getting increasingly hard to find.  Fewer and fewer farmers grow them every year.  The reason for the diminishing supplies is definitely not the taste, which is just heavenly, but more because they are ever so delicate.  Just look at them funny and they bruise, we like to say.

In the world where everything has to look blemish-free and perfectly formed, these bruised babies hardly have a place.  As for me, I just adore the freckled imperfection and ther sweet, fragrant flesh.  They are tiny, and they taste like you take normal size apricots and miniaturize them, intensifying the flavor.  I don’t mind the bruises here and there, they make them even sweeter I say.  The Blenheims don’t last very long off the trees, nor after they are bought at the market, but somehow that’s never been a problem for me either.  They are usually gone the same afternoon.

If you’re in Bay Area, or just happen to find yourself here right now, look out for them at the farmers market.  You’ll thank me later.

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I am not a plastic bag – version 2.0


A year I wrote a post making fun of the global scramble to get one of those Anya Hindmarch’s limited edition "I am not a plastic bag" bags.  The campaign’s intention was entirely laudable, though that stampede it created, like the near riot in a Hong Kong mall for example, was indeed ripe for ridicule.  Fast forward to the present day, the reusable bag trend is hotter than ever.  More and more stores are giving up bags altogether while others give shoppers an incentive like a discount or coupons to bring your own bags.

I’m in the market for some new bags myself, and found quite a few that are so enticing I simply must share with you here.  Just because we’ve gone eco around here doesn’t mean we’re stuck with unfashionable hemp bags in the shade of Maoist gray.  (Though I’ve just found that even hemp can be hip now, go figure.)

The first place I looked was Reisenthel, the fabulous German maker of all things to carry other things with.  (Can you come up with a better description for them?  I certainly couldn’t.)  They are my favorite, and everything I’ve bought from them have been practically indestructible.  I’m still in love with the basket I got from Frankfurt years ago, though David has taken it over and turned my hip German basket into his foraging basket.  What’s a girl to do but go shopping anew?  Here darling, twist my arm.

Lucky for me, I don’t need to hop a flight to Frankfurt–though one to Paris is in my rather immediate future–because Amazon now carries a whole bunch of Reisenthel products.

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One-pot herb garden


I’m not one of those green-thumb people.  I really am not.  I’ve killed many a potted plant, among them cacti and even aloe vera.  So, it’s not without trepidation that I took this lovely one-pot herb garden home. 

I’ve been wanting to have potted herbs at home for a long time though.  Every Spring I mumble to myself, this year for sure, this year I’ll grow my own herbs.  I’ve grown tried of buying expensive, emaciated-looking herbs in little plastic packets from the store, yet every time I buy them in big bunches at the farmers market so much go to waste because I just don’t use enough at a time.

A few weeks ago I made my usual early Spring grumble in front of Cynthia at the garden.  Last week I went up there and there it was, a big "strawberry pot" filled with gorgeous, vibrant, vigorous-looking herbs, ready for me to take home.  Cynthia has made it especially for me.

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It’s durian season. Would you try it?


It looks like I’ve been in the mood for not-so-photogenic food.  There was that rather ugly, if delicious, salad, and now this.  Adding insult to injury (quite likely injury at that, can’t you see the thorns?) it also stinks to high heavens.  You know what I’m talking about here, yes?  It’s durian season!  I’ve been seeing those big, thorny, smelly fruits every time I was at a Chinese market, and I finally took one home a couple days ago.

Durians are one of those strong flavors that doesn’t inspire apathy: one either adores it or abhor it totally.  Ambrosia to some and, um, well, ass–as my friend Katy succinctly put it–to others.  Having grown up in Thailand, you can guess which side of that divide I belong.  Even if you haven’t tried it yourself, I’m sure you have heard of it.

When I lived in Thailand, the arrival of durian season signaled the
beginning of summer, the blissful end of long-suffered school year, and days on the seaside where salty air mingled with the sweet scent
of my favorite dessert, Khao Niew Durian, sweet sticky rice bathed in a custardy sauce
made with durian, coconut milk, and sweet palm sugar. 

Even in the best of circumstances–like having high-quality, fresh,
never frozen durians to eat–durians can be overpowering enough, but
these frozen ones can get worse.  The delicate flesh of the durian
fruits also suffer after having been frozen, turning into practically mush once thawed.  I
myself find frozen durians unfit to eat outright, but it’s just perfect for the Khao Niew Durian.      

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The green curry paste that got me seeing red!

a proper green curry paste recipe

I was just innocently channel-surfing, minding my own business the other day when something green got me all fuming and seeing red. It was on Ming Tsai’s show, something about Thai green curry paste. The problem is, that paste is just as Thai as Yul Brynner huffing and hopping his way around the room in a simian imitation of King Mongkut. I don’t have anything against Ming Tsai, mind you. I found him entertaining enough when I saw him in Aspen last year. I even think the format of his show made a lot of sense: teach one master recipe and how to adapt it into multiple recipes involving different ingredients. That’s how most of us cook anyway. But I must take exception of this one recipe.

The master recipe I am talking about is a ‘Thai’ green curry paste. It was such an abomination that it ruined the otherwise innocent recipes that follow. It even entangled the cutesy Aaron Sanchez of Centrico into making a hybrid Latino-Thai version of a Mole. I am serious.

The recipe I found so distasteful has – amongst its many ingredients -€“ a substantial amount of mint, basil, and cilantro leafs. A whole cup each, which is – let me put it gracefully – YUCK.

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